January 24, 2012

Happiness (or the blog post that is too long and wordy)

Pilgrim Inn by Elizabeth Goudge

 I just read this book and enjoyed it. The writing was decent, but not spectacular. I can see why this is not an enduring classic, since it is quiet and wordy. And there was entirely too much that was simply understood by looks and too little dialogue at times. But maybe everyone else in the world is more observant than I am and actually DOES communicate by looks and I need to practice penetrating glances more.

What I really enjoyed about this book written in 1948 in England was the plot and basis of the story. Of course, there were various sub-plots and themes, but I don't feel like getting into them. The main theme to me was finding or creating our own happiness. One of the largest plots was a woman who was in love with her husbands nephew actually. I know, it might sound weird, but in the book they were of similar ages and it wasn't that weird. And these two people were in love and planning on being married once the husband finally granted the divorce. Then the mother-in-law steps in and nixes this and tells the wife to get back to her husband and kids. The book happens about 7 years later. There is still a lingering love and attraction between the two which makes both of their lives miserable. This book is about them letting go, setting each other free, and getting on with their lives. And through doing that, the woman realizes that she has spent the last 7 years wallowing in what might have been and sacrificing her families happiness to her resentment of having to give that up even though she stayed with her husband. And she realized that in doing that to her family, she was basically rendering her previous sacrifice, of not pursuing the divorce, null and void.

I think this struck me so much because this is a theme rarely found in modern books. Most contemporary books make relationships happy or not happy and if it isn't happy, you need out. Occasionally you come across one where they work out their differences and make it work. But I don't think I have ever come across a book written in the last 25 years, in a first world nation, where a woman denies her "one true love" to make her marriage work. And then settles pretty happily into the marriage. Maybe I am just not reading the right books. Still, in today's society, if you love someone that you aren't married to, then you are definitely encouraged to make the sacrifice of your families happiness to pursue this love because it IS your life after all and you only get one shot at it.

What interests me is how this idea of happiness being a circumstance or situation came about. IE You will just make yourself and your family miserable if you stay in this loveless marriage, so, quick! go find love! Rather than, you are married to a decent person, happiness is there if you are willing to honestly give it a go. Quite often people look back on the days when parents chose your spouse or when marriage wasn't so much the culmination of a happy relationship as an absolute necessity so you could move out of your parents house. We think how much happier we are now because we can choose our spouse or be single if we want. Choices.We are better off now. But are we happier?

On purely an observational, non-scientific level, I don't think people are happier today. Since there is no effective way to compare today's happiness with the happiness of 100-200 years ago, no one can prove me wrong. (I like points like this.) It is pretty easy to see that situations, at least in our country, ARE better or "happier" than they were years ago. We have antibiotics (less death), education (more knowledge), better work rules and regulations (less death, higher wages), women's rights (less sexual discrimination, more choice for women), more racial equality (less hate and discrimination, more opportunities) easier communication (more connected to families, friends), easier transportation (wider horizons), and all kinds of technology to make life easier (more time to spend in leisure or knowledge pursuits). Yet with all these advances in the quality of life, I don't think we have seen an equal increase in people's satisfaction with life or happiness.

Is it possible that throughout time there is a certain amount of misery and discontentment that is in the world at any given time? Sort of like matter not being created and destroyed-- there is always the same percentage of miserable creatures in this world..... I doubt it. If happiness is our own construct, each person has an equal shot at happiness right? This theory would be laughable to someone from a privileged first class life looking on a persons life where there is death, abuse, suffering, drug addiction, and hunger on a daily basis. Yet there are whole countries or regions that live in those conditions and I think it would ludicrous to say there is no happiness in the entire population indigenous to that area.

If people can be happy in a war torn nation, in starvation, in daily desperation, happiness is obviously not a situation or circumstance. I don't pretend that that people in third world nations want to stay as they are and wouldn't jump at the chance to experience peace and excess. But looking at America today, or any other first world nation, I think we can safely say happiness is not guaranteed by advantages. This is nothing new. People have known that the rich, "who have everything" suffer from depression just as much or more than poor, underprivileged people.

So how could society as a whole embrace this idea that happiness lies in attainment, which is in our grasp if we just make the right choices? The American Dream. Higher education is the fast track to success which is where happiness lives. True love is perfection. Women will naturally be happier if they aren't tied to the home. People in general are happier if they are free to choose.

I don't in ANYWAY want to give the impression that I am against personal choice. I think it is the most precious American right we have. I am glad to have rights as a woman. I am thankful I was able to pursue higher education. But to portray them as what makes you happy is silly. And I think it is what encourages depression and dissatisfaction in today's world. When happiness is something we should be able to reach through good choices, happiness in life is suddenly an outer failure rather than something that can be fixed by changing our mindset. And being an outer failure it is something that needs to be corrected by changing life. If changing life is out of the question, people feel like failures, feel like they are settling, feel like they are being held back from reaching their full potential by the things that surround them in their life. Which leads to resentment which, if properly fed, leads to selfishness and greed. And there will never be happiness in that direction.

Like in this book, is it not possible that happiness is easier to come by through accepting the limitations in our life and learning to be content, feel fulfilled, and be thankful even in our less than perfect life? Why would we saddle people with the idea that they need to ever be attaining, choosing, and changing their lives? Sounds like a recipe for a nervous breakdown, not a good life.

I feel like I am now writing a dissertation on happiness rather than a blog post. I didn't mean to write this much and I won't be offended if you gave up trying to follow my mental gymnastics 8 paragraphs back. Happiness is such a basic human emotion that it becomes fascinating to think about when people misconstrue it to be some huge litmus test of life. Either a validation or condemnation of life choices. And while we are so busy fussing about choices and expectations we pretty much take up so much mind space, we can't even see the little bits of happiness, of contentment, fulfillment, and  things to be thankful for floating around our peripheral vision. We think older people are wise mainly because they have changed their focus from attaining and petty human nature to those things that have always been hanging out in their peripherals. Or at least, that is what I think of as wisdom.

And before I get launched on various personal definitions of wisdom, I will stop writing. And it is lunch time and my happiness depends on food in the next little bit. My happiness is so fleeting.... :-)

Back to the original point, I enjoyed Elizabeth Goudge's book and if you like quiet, happy books, read it!

January 20, 2012

Mommy Olympics before 9 AM

Last night was one of those nights.

Gilbert woke up at 12:59. I rocked him for a few minutes and then put him back in his crib. He hollered. I was feeling incapable of dealing with this from a vertical perspective, so I plopped him into bed with us and pushed him over to Justin after a few minutes of cuddling. Justin never flinched. Happily, I went back to sleep, or at least that semi-conscious state in which I noted every movement of Gilbert (toss, turn, kick, kick, wiggle, wiggle up, bump his head on the wall). At 4, I decided I couldn't handle it anymore. So I carefully took him back to his crib and crawled back in  bed wondering why on earth I hadn't done this at 1:20. And then I began to reflect on my general inability to make good choices about simple things. And then I was very awake, redoing the taxes in my head and making sure I did everything right. This is difficult, since the tax forms are hard to place correctly in my head at 4 AM. I then spent a GOOD deal of time thinking: I did that WRONG. What if they audit us? ohhhh why am I such an idiot. No, I really think I DID do that right. But did I do that other thing right? Aaaaahhhh. I don't know. I need to check first thing in the morning. My head feels funny. I feel like I might faint. Why am I feeling faint? Because it is 4:40 and you are laying here redoing taxes in your head. But my blood pressure was high today at my appointment today. What if I have high blood pressure. That might mean I have toxemia. The doctor DID say I was at higher risk for it with gestational diabetes. I bet I have toxemia. I CAN FEEL MY HEARTBEAT IN MY EAR. My veins are probably going to explode from the pressure. Don't be an idiot. My word, that doesn't happen. Deep breaths. Ahhhh.... What was that cure for toxemia we learned about in birth class? An 18 egg omelet. Oh help us. I don't think I could stomach that. I really should make one in case. Have I been eating enough protein???? (mental review of what I have eaten for the past week, almost as difficult as mental taxes). I should eat more protein. Should I go get some right now? Ooooh my head feels funny. Should I wake Justin? GO TO SLEEP. I wonder if I am getting another cold. It does sort of feel like a cold...

Finally, I dozed off, to wake up half an hour later and think "Hey I fell asleep! Cool......"

When Justin's alarm went off I felt like I had aged 50 years and gained 300 pounds--completely no energy. I tried to come up with a reasonable amount of money that I would pay to be able to stay in bed, but it was difficult. Even $10 seemed a bit much. If I was a billionaire, I would pay $43,000. But then I realized if I was a billionaire I could just make someone drive Orianna to school when I felt good and ready to get her dressed. Or I would make the nanny get her ready. And then I thought about how I would MISS having to do stuff for the kids if we got a nanny. Which propelled me out of bed. Orianna was thankfully cheerful this morning, which made life easier. After lots of Orianna hugs and kisses, Lily and Gilbert waved to the bus in front of an open door and got frightfully cold. Gilbert doesn't get quite as cold, since waving at the bus is a full body experience, involving a 180 degree side to side movement of his upper body while waving wildly with his hand and yelling riotously. Lily, however, waves demurely and gets freezing cold. We decided oatmeal and peanut butter toast with milk would be best to warm our tummies. After asking every 10 seconds if the oatmeal was done, I finally gave her a bowl of oatmeal, which she spilled in dribbles all the way to the table. Lily assured me that spilling would never happen when she was 5. And proceeded to read a Jan Brett book for 10 minutes while I told her to eat breakfast. Gilbert took a lot of convincing that his oatmeal was NOT too hot. He then insisted on eating it himself. After dribbling oatmeal down his chin and all over his star jammies, he decided that maybe Mommy could help after all. In between every bite, he pointed to the mess he made, made me say mess and then fussed about cleaning it up THAT SECOND. I pretended I was deaf. (I might not want a nanny, but I wouldn't mind a maid.) When he got tired of pointing out the mess, he fussed about his black bear rubber boots that he had put on over his footie jammies that needed constant readjustment to keep on. Then he needed a book. I told him no. Then he saw a coloring book and needed crayons. I told him no. Then he decided he HAD to be done so he could go get his Michael Finnegan book. As I finally ate my breakfast he kept trying to point to my chin (igan) while I tried to convince him that just because HE loves Michael Finnegan, it doesn't mean that I want to read it in between bites. He gave up and went over to ask Lily to share his love of Michael Finnegan. Being much more kind than her mother, Lily gave up her mostly finished breakfast and sang to him.

They are now laughing and splashing in the bath.

I need a nap.

But really, what nice kids they all are.

January 10, 2012

1/10/12 (which I kept writing as 1/12/10)

Thanks to Sheena, I am now thinking in "Item #1" terms and this blog is really just a list of things that struck me as interesting or funny today.

Item #1--Just now, I was signing into my email, wondering what the ad for "Ady. Aim. Serve" meant. Then realized that it was just another ad not formatted to fit my 10 inch monitor. I miss a lot apparently. And I don't even KNOW it. When I sign into my email or facebook on Mom and Dad's computer, there are ads on the side. Huh.

#2--Dandelion greens were for sale at Price Chopper today--$2.99/lb. The grocery store is seriously selling something that suburban Americans spend  a lot of their free time trying to put on the endangered species list. I wonder who buys it. Probably someone who round-ups their lawn periodically to keep it that beautiful, uniform green.

#3--At the DMV today, trying for the second time to register the van, I was told we were at an impasse because they need a copy of Justin's drivers license. Which they issued at that very DMV. I had his license number, but they couldn't pull it up on the computer and print out a copy, because they wouldn't be able to see if it was really him. And if I bring in a copy of the license (without him being there) they will suddenly realize of COURSE that's him! They need to see the ID of every person that comes into the DMV. Even if they didn't come in.

#4--I am feeling like couponing again. Today, I bought Bengay. Which I really don't need seeing I already have 10 tubes of it. The stuff is always better than free. About as bad as toothpaste. And this is after my STUFF declaration. The Christmas candy was all 75% off. Hello pretzel M+Ms and peppermint bark.

#5--Does anyone need some Bengay? 

January 9, 2012

The joys of childhood

This past weekend, we were lucky enough to hit one more childhood milestone. I wish we could have left this one alone, but no. On Saturday night, after a day of freezing rain, I discovered a few emerging louse on Orianna's hair. Now, before you think I am some paranoid freak who is always checking, we had a pal over during Christmas break. Her parents called a few days later and said.... "Ummm.... yeah, she has lice." Due to the swapping of dress up hats, sharing pillows, etc I was expecting lice. Fortunately, I feel really confident that we caught it at the very beginning of the original eggs hatching. Orianna said her head had not been itchy at all.

Being late at night with icy roads, there wasn't much we could do to get rid of them at that moment. Justin was all eagerness to go buy stuff, but I didn't want to have to put that he was going to get RID or NIX for his family in his obituary. He told me I could leave that part out, but still--it would be a sordid sort of ending. So instead, we stayed up until 11 that night, bagging up every stuffed animal, barbie, polly, dress up dress, scarf, hat, and purse. Justin and Gilbert got buzz cuts. Justin lost his beard. We put our living room furniture under quarantine, rolled up our wool rugs, and generally behaved like our house was infested with ebola carrying insects instead of a few harmless, annoying parasites.

If you remember my resolutions, about getting rid of stuff and keeping things neat, it won't be too hard for you to understand how I could be excited about this. The kids can't spread barbies, pollys, dress up things, and stuffed animals around! We got out a weeks worth of clothes and then filled the walk in closet with all the quarantine things that will stay in there for 3 weeks or more. I only have a weeks worth of clothes for all of us! Even if I got really backed up in laundry, our clothes couldn't fill more than two laundry baskets! Fabulous! The floor is all bare wood, with no living room chairs or rug to sweep around--easy peasy! I may never open that closet again...

There are downsides of course. I am writing this from a stool, rather than my normal, comfy chair. I think this will cut down on computer time. I have also decided to wash all our sheets and pillowcases every single day. This will mean more laundry. I also had to pick through Orianna and Lily's hair, 10-20 strands at a time to check for nits. It wasn't fun. And I will have to do it every day for two weeks. I had to endure an hour and a half long of Justin detangling my hair and going through it in the same manner, with occasional heart stopping pauses so he could tell me I had a fleck of dandruff. Very demoralizing.

Since I couldn't do anything with rid or nix Saturday night, I went to google to see what I could do naturally. I found that vinegar dissolves the glue that holds the nits to the hair. Bingo! Five minutes later, the girls were draped over the side of the tub hollering as cold vinegar hit their scalps and wormed its way into their eyes. I thought they were being dramatic. Until Justin poured some cold vinegar on me.

Apparently rid and nix do not always work. In fact they often don't. There seemed to be a consensus online that when they didn't work, you resorted to plan B. Plan B sounds more like old-wives tales, but since I really hated the idea of making my daughters and my pregnant self dip our heads in insecticide like sheep, I decided to try plan B first.

Plan B
Massage olive oil, mayonnaise, or vaseline into hair.
Cover with shower cap for a few hours and wait until all adult live are smothered.
Rinse with vinegar to loosen nits
Wash with regular shampoo
Keep fresh sprigs of rosemary nearby since lice hate strong smells like rosemary

I went with mayonnaise, since it seemed like the easiest to stay in and the easiest to get out. I went to Wal-mart early Sunday morning, since we obviously weren't going to meeting with untreated lice. My cart looked something like this

5 gallon jugs of vinegar (I REALLY wanted to loosen those nits)
3 jars of mayonnaise
2 jars of vaseline (just in case)
15 shower caps
3 laundry basket (for filling with stuff and placing in the quarantine closet)
2 new pillows
2 packs of fresh rosemary
2 bottles of fragrance oil, just in case the rosemary wasn't quite fresh enough
1 nit comb

I thought the clerk would probably suspect me of making some weird kind of salad bomb, but fortunately, she was too intrigued with the guy in front of me who bought one bag of cough drops. The computer made her ID him for his birth date and this fascinated her. We discussed it in detail through my whole weird order. We concluded that the world had gone nuts and anyone who was going to get high off cough drops is desperate and depressing enough that we couldn't be responsible for their weirdness.

When I got home, we cleaned the entire house. Somehow this seemed like a good idea. Things that had been languishing with no home for weeks or months suddenly found a new home or took up residence in the huge contractors garbage bag we had for trash. It was lovely. We swept, we wiped, we organized, we scrubbed, we picked up. Once this was done, we went into the bathroom and got down to the dirty business of mayo-ing our hair. Gilbert and Justin were left out, since their hair was so short we could see at 5 paces if they had lice or not and they didn't.

Mayonnaise makes the hair remarkably style-able. The girls both got fancy hair rolls (mayonnaise rolls!) on the top of their head with a q-tip of lavender fragrance oil poked in to really annoy the suffocating lice And then the shower cap. Gilbert got jealous of their shower caps and had to have one of his own. They were that cool looking. Lastly, I did my own hair. I wouldn't recommend this for some day you feel like doing something, but you aren't sure what. Mayonnaise in your hair is strictly for desperate measures. I wanted to be sure to smother anything up there, so I glopped it on. As I was doing it, I dropped some of the mayonnaise on the kids little training potty. Orianna asked Justin "Does mommy thinks there are bugs on our little potty?" Probably you had to be there, but if you were standing in your bathroom, overtired, with a handful  of mayonnaise while your three offspring stare confusedly and amusedly at you from underneath greasy shower caps and your de-bearded and freshly buzzcut husband kindly holds the mayonnaise jar for you, it would be hilarious. Justin and I laughed until we cried and were gasping for breath.

I paid for being overzealous with the smothering mayonnaise by having tickle-y streams of oil running down my cheek all afternoon. Ick.

After our vinegar rinse, I got out the nit comb. Turns out the nit comb doesn't work too hot. I ended up having to take 10-20 strands at a time, going through them all from 3 different angles, and scraping any nits I saw off with my fingers. Made me feel like some primate or something. Orianna was the only one we found any nits on. And there weren't that many. While she had her mayonnaise beauty rinse on, a lone adult louse crawled out from underneath it, clearly seeking a better country, devoid of mayonnaise and lavender oil. This makes me feel good. Since Lily sleeps with Orianna, we must have caught it at the very beginning of having adult lice.

We cut some fresh sprigs of rosemary, tucked it into our kids greasy, knobby buns (apparently you need more than one washing to get mayonnaise out of the hair) and sent them to bed in separate beds.

It was an eventful day.

I do not wish to repeat it.

Gilbert with a buzzcut and doughnut icing and jam on his mouth

It's what the cool kids do

The only live one we saw

Now that I have totally grossed you out, you can now go about your own life. Was that an itch you just felt in your hair??!?!?!!?

January 6, 2012

Resolving to be Resolute

Yeah, it has been a month since I posted. In case you haven't guessed, morning sickness reared its ugly head and laid me low for a bit once again. Then I had a cold. Then a stomach bug (like what all this morning sickness had been training me for). And then Christmas vacation. Cristin's wedding. New Years. And a brand new horrid cold.

Despite rouge germs and morning sickness, it was a good month! But I am not sure I feel like catching up on a month of non-blogging. And a month or two ahead of that. So I might do that in a few days. But not today.

We finally have winter. Below zero nights mixed with warmer, snowy days. A good time to sit around cuddling, sneezing, coughing, and making funny faces when you feel like you should sneeze, but don't. The kids are all sniffling and coughing as well. Gilbert is on a nebulizer machine to help this wheezy thing he had. For some reason, he sits like a precious angel when Justin does it in the evening, but when I do it, he begins to do his impression of an Olympic gymnast--not much skill, but a lot of derring do.

And of course it is New Years. I decided to come up with some resolutions because I feel like I should. I would love to say I won't worry as much, I will be more healthy in eating and exercise, keep my house clean, pay off credit cards, and not procrastinate. It is important to remember though that I am feeling more like a hibernating bear than an Olympic gymnast with derring do, so I have decided to simplify my resolutions.

1. I won't worry as much--sort of nebulous. How do I gauge this? Do I keep track of how many times I am convinced my family or I have a dread disease? Or how long I lay awake in the middle of the night imagining all that could possibly go wrong in life? That is a toughie. So instead....

1 Revised. I won't read the news anymore. This might not seem connected, but it IS! I read articles everyday about everything that has gone wrong in the world, all the current and projected health scares, and how every person running for president on ANY ticket is really out for himself and not the country. It contributes to worrying and thinking life is futile. Plus I waste time doing this which would be better employed doing some of my other resolutions, which if I actually DID, might make me worry less.

2. I will be more healthy in eating and exercise. The two big E's. Since I am in my second trimester, this isn't something I can do with much grandeur or impressive results. I know I am going to get fatter. And the doctor told me I can't lose weight. So any major change will have to be after Gosha (Orianna's name for baby that has stuck) is born. Still, I already have gestational diabetes, which means I probably already HAD diabetes or at least pre-diabetes before getting pregnant, so I have to change how I eat. This is a lot more propelling when the doctor discusses the chances of having to put me on insulin and possible complications with birth.

2 Revised. I will not eat desert and I will do a walking DVD. Since I am not allowed to lose weight, but I have to totally change how I eat, I have decided the easiest thing would be to stop eating desert and eat more healthy-ish food. Peanut butter whole wheat toast with milk falls into the healthy-ish category. And it is the best thing for not raising my blood sugar. How about that. A win-win. And I have heard wonderful recommendations for Leslie Sansones walking DVDs. One is on it's way to my house from Amazon as I type.

3. I will keep my house clean. Yeah, I really wish I could. I have had some success with keeping laundry clean and doing dishes. Occasionally I have a burst of energy and I organize something. For now....

3 Revised. I will keep dishes and laundry clean. I like to put clean in there because if the laundry doesn't somehow get folded, I will still be keeping my resolution. Although I would like to have a sofa instead of a fabulously cushy laundry holder as the centerpiece of our living room.

4. Pay off credit cards. I did cut them all up, so you would think it should be simple; we pay some each month and eventually we are out of debt. Well we are paying a little each month and much of our debt is under a nice 0% interest balance transfer, but it just isn't moving along like we had planned. A new van, registration, heating oil, things happen. So for now....

4 Revised. We will not ADD to our credit card debt. This isn't patriotic, since the economy wants everyone to spend, but if politicians are just out for themselves, I figure we can just be looking out for ourselves and let the economy muddle along without our support. I dare say it will.

5. I will not procrastinate. Ha. Procrastination is woven into my base layer. I think I may fall apart if I try to remove this from my life. What would I think about if I stopped worrying AND procrastinating? Scary. I might have original thoughts rather than a running " I have GOT to get this done" list. Plus, did you notice the part where I feel more like a bear hibernating? THEY aren't rushing around doing. Hibernating bears don't have to procrastinate I guess, since sleeping is the only thing on their agenda. Although some of them give birth while hibernating. So....

5 Revised. I will become more like a hibernating bear. Our house will be snug, cozy, and EMPTY. I will get rid of STUFF! I will simplify my agenda (I tell ya! It has been overflowing. Some days I have to run errands!) to sleeping. I will give birth to a cute little fat thing and cuddle it a lot. I wonder if there is some way to not have to eat for 5 months..... Besides starvation. I am not into that. And I guess I will avoid the furry mama bear look. Although mama bears, with all their fur, certainly aren't running down to the mountain stream doing laundry all the time. Tough choice.......

There. Five resolutions revised to fit my pregnant life. Whew. A day's work. I think I will go sleep.

Oh and Happy New Year to you all.

PS Next time, say the beginning of February, I will post pictures. I know. You are just dying.